Does civic engagement (or you can call it “democratic participation,” or “stronger civil society”) help communities economically? I don’t think there is a large literature on that question, at least with explicit reference to the United States. Of course, wealthier communities tend to be more engaged, but that could be because income and other assets make engagement easier. It is trickier to detect a causal arrow that points in the opposite direction. However, based on the sources listed below, I would make the following hypothesis: the quality–not the quantity–of civic engagement is related to whether communities can withstand economic crises and make difficult collective decisions that help them to recover.
- Vaughn L. Grisham’s, Tupelo: The Evolution of a Community, which associates the remarkable economic success of Tupelo, Miss, with its civic infrastructure.
- Sean Safford, “Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown: Civic infrastructure and mobilization in economic crises,” which emphasizes differences in network structures, not raw amounts of engagement.
- Jeffrey Berry, Kent Portney, and Ken Thomson, The Rebirth of Urban Democracy, which shows that cities with stronger associational participation are able to make difficult decisions better.
If I am missing research or plausible hypotheses, I would love to know.